Galway university project developing sensors for heart attack ‘triggers’

NUIG earmarked €5m for cardiac research project

NUI Galway: Prof William Wijns has paid tribute to “excellent facilities and world-class researchers” at the university

Sensors alerting people at risk of heart attacks to "triggers" such as stress or high blood pressure are being developed by a research team at NUI Galway (NUIG).

The €5 million project is being led by cardiology expert Prof William Wijns, who has joined the university through the Science Foundation Ireland research professorship programme.

Triggers such as anger, mental stress, high blood pressure, strenuous exercise and sleep disorders are known to cause a rupture in the narrowing of artery walls among people prone to cardiac illness.

Cardiovascular disease accounts for 33 per cent of all deaths in Ireland, and causes 13 per cent of premature deaths in people under the age of 65, according to Irish Heart Foundation statistics.


Prof Wijns’s work will focus on developing medical devices that can monitor “trigger” activities electronically, at a distance, using wearable sensors in high-risk subjects.

He previously worked at the Thorax Center in Rotterdam, Holland, and was also clinical professor of cardiology at the University of Louvain in Brussels.

He has a specific interest in heart attacks and sudden death caused by unexpected blockage of arteries supplying the heart with blood and oxygen. This occurs in people exposed to risk factors such as family history, hypertension, smoking, diabetes or high cholesterol, who exhibit a vulnerable narrowing in the walls of their arteries without being aware of it.

Emotional upset

Research recently published by Dr Andrew Smyth of NUIG in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation found an association – described as more than twice the risk – between anger or emotional upset and the onset of heart attack symptoms within one hour.

Dr Smyth’s research found that the same was true for heavy physical exertion during the hour before their first heart attack.

However, patients who recalled being angry or emotionally upset while also engaged in heavy physical exertion tripled their risk of cardiac arrest.

Prof Wijns has paid tribute to “excellent facilities and world-class researchers” at NUIG, and says he is very excited by the potential to further his research and to work with such a strong network of academic, clinical and industrial partners.

The Government’s chief scientific adviser and SFI director general Prof Mark Ferguson said Prof Wijns’s appointment “epitomises SFI’s commitment to fund world-class research with impact in the health and med-tech sector”.

Prof Wijns will also join the cardiology department at the Saolta University healthcare group of hospitals, working with other clinicians engaged in translational cardiovascular research.

Several months ago, an international team of scientists at Manchester University in England developed a sensor which could tell doctors if a person has already had a heart attack.

The sensor developed by Manchester University can detect certain chemicals released in high amounts into the bloodstream after a heart attack.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times